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Row over seating in Lok Sabha resolved

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, DEC. 19. It has taken over six months to resolve the wrangle between the ruling and opposition coalitions over the allotment of the prestigious front row seats in the Lok Sabha, and finally that was done just a few days ago.

The trouble arose because the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry wanted to allocate two seats on the front benches to two former Prime Ministers — H. D. Deve Gowda and Chandra Shekhar — before allocating the remaining 18 front row seats between the ruling parties, the Opposition, and the supporting or neutral parties. Bharatiya Janata Party leaders felt that the move would deny them front row seats due to them and they also wanted to accommodate leaders of allied parties such as the Shiv Sena and the Janata Dal (United).

The BJP suggested that if former Prime Ministers were to be accommodated then Mr. Vajpayee should also figure in that slot.

The matter was resolved to the satisfaction of both the sides — Mr. Deve Gowda and Mr. Chandra Shekhar have been given front row seats (numbers 99 and 187) — and on the NDA side, the leader of the Janata Dal (United), George Fernandes (seat number 366) and the Shiv Sena leader, Anant Gangaram Geete (seat number 365) have been accommodated.

Seat number one, on the right of the Speaker, is the seat reserved for the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh; seat number two has been allotted to the Leader of the House, Pranab Mukherjee; seat number three has gone to the UPA chairman, Sonia Gandhi; while seat numbers four, five and six and 98 have been allotted to ruling allied party leaders, Sharad Pawar (Nationalist Congress Party), Lalu Prasad (Rashtriya Janata Dal), T. R. Baalu (DMK), and Ram Vilas Paswan (Lok Jan Shakti).

The whole of the NDA has been allotted two blocks with 185 seats, which corresponds to the NDA strength. The two blocks have between them eight front row seats, including one reserved (number 459) for the Deputy Speaker, Charanjit Singh Atwal. The others accommodated on the front row include the Leader of Opposition, L. K. Advani, who has the reserved seat (number 458) next to that of the Deputy Speaker, the chairman of the NDA, Atal Bihari Vajpayee (seat number 457), the BJP deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, Vijay Kumar Malhotra (seat number 456), former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Kalyan Singh (seat number 455) and the BJP's Karnataka leader, Anant Kumar (seat number 454).

Thus, the Leader of the House, Mr. Mukherjee, will sit opposite the leader of the Opposition, while the chairmen of the two political groups, Mrs. Gandhi and Mr. Vajpayee will also sit opposite each other, both on the third seats from the right and the left of the Speaker.

In between the UPA and the NDA blocks will sit Mr. Gowda and Mr. Chandra Shekhar in the front row, and next to them Basudev Acharya (Communist Party of India - Marxist) on seat number 188; the Samajwadi Party leader, Ram Gopal Yadav on seat number 276 and the Bahujan Samaj Party leader, Rajesh Verma on seat number 277, all in the front row.

And, of course, the man who has sat on the front benches since 1991, Somnath Chatterjee, has the Speaker's chair.

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